In challenging economic times, business owners face the difficulty of increasing revenue while reducing spending. Advertising reps say now is the time that you can't afford not to advertise, but advertising is only part of an integrated marketing strategy.
Often overlooked is the power of an effective public relations campaign, which for the marine industry involves branding an image to boaters to create a "warm and fuzzy" feeling. It requires a much smaller cash outlay than traditional advertising, but also requires careful planning and time. However, the fundamental principles remain constant, serving as the foundation for branding your image.
Mahopac Marina recently decided to include our local Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla in one of its cable TV commercials promoting boating safety on Lake Mahopac in New York. Mahopac, which provides services and sells boats, felt an obligation to promote safety. As public affairs officer, I participated in the commercial.
That gave me the perfect opportunity to turn this into a newsworthy event, as the media often will not cover a story that involves a business unless the event and related story are considered newsworthy. Since this strategic initiative between Mahopac and the auxiliary was in the interest of public safety, the press release was covered in several periodicals. The auxiliary got its message across regarding safe boating and Mahopac was viewed as a local business that cares about public safety.
At a local Chamber of Commerce meeting the following week, some new members told me I looked familiar and we struck up a conversation about my business and theirs. After hearing my networking comments about working with Mahopac and the auxiliary, those people realized they had seen the marina owner and me in the newspaper story.
The same thing happened the following week, when our members rode the float in the local Columbus Day parade, which, of course, consisted of a boat provided by Mahopac with its business sign and logo. During the upcoming New York Boat Show, many members of the local auxiliary flotilla will be certain to visit Mahopac as a show of support and gratitude for our mission.
In February, the marina will coordinate a boat show at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, N.Y., where the auxiliary will promote boating safety. And several more events are planned throughout the winter, while boaters in the region remain landlocked, through National Boating Safety Week in May. Each event will be shared with the local media as part of our joint initiative to promote boating safety. As a result of this public relations campaign and exposure, those who are looking to purchase a boat will remember Mahopac as the business that cares about them and the safety of their families.
An advertising campaign generates spaced repetition that helps people remember your business's name, but advertising - combined with an effective public relations campaign - can give consumers a reason to want to do business with you. Public relations generates trust and confidence that they are doing business with someone who cares and that they can expect the highest level of service from a business that stands behind its reputation and the products it sells.
Remember, once consumers become customers it is important to keep them satisfied in order to build loyalty. Nothing will do more harm than burning someone who comes to you with that warm and fuzzy feeling but ends up disappointed. Customers will go out of their way to tell others if they think they were duped by an unscrupulous business that used bait-and-switch tactics. If your PR campaign is intended to tell people you care about them and the community, it becomes your obligation to follow through.
Teaming up with strategic affinity partners such as the Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons and marine services is just one way to build an effective public relations campaign. Many other opportunities exist. However, keep your customer base in mind. They are boaters who are passionate about anything that has to do with their pastime, so stay focused.
If your community is going green, maybe there is something you can do to promote conservation and protection of the marine environment. If you are in a fishing port, consider coordinating a cook-off or an event to feed the elderly and those who are less fortunate. Or simply raise money for a worthy cause.
My advice, however, is to keep your initiative marine-oriented. Don't lose sight of your market. After all, you have a fiduciary responsibility to your business and, although some may say that sounds selfish, it is reality.
Andy Powers is the owner of Powers & Company, specializing in business management, marketing, public relations and international tax management. He has successfully used the Internet, including social media, and public relations to expand his "sphere of influence" and attract new business from clients around the world. To learn more about the author and business, and numerous informative and opinion articles written by him, visit www.tax-power.com.
This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue.